A lot of bright people are involved in trying to figure out a reasonable solution for the concussion crisis that is hitting every level of sports, not just football. Though football garners the lion’s share of the attention, soccer, hockey, lacrosse and other sports are also experiencing great concern from all parties involved.
The Brain Health Summit was put together by the Brain Treatment Foundation and led by Nicole Fisher and Leigh Steinberg. Steinberg spoke of his motivation for launching his concussion initiatives as being about his conscience since he saw the impact on Troy Aikman and other players. He said that he has been pushing the NFL for changes since 1994. Fisher spoke to her passion about the protection of children and making sure that we allow them to develop and play.
The panel consisted of:
- Andrew Brandt, Moorad Sports Law Institute, Business of Sports Podcast
- Ricardo Lockett, former NFL player
- Dr. Ron Savage, Pediatric Neurologist
- Jason Esteves, Atlanta Public Schools
One major distinction between football and the other sports is that football is the only one which has repetitive trauma on virtually every play, in every game and in every practice. It is for this reason that Chris Nowinski, Co-Founder of the Concussion Legacy Foundation, continues to push for no tackle football under 14. Interestingly, Dr. Savage noted that sports were restricted under the age of 12 going all the way back to the 1950’s. Savage noted that the big challenge is that trauma in the developmental stages of growth causes a significant risk for the child.
So clearly eliminating hits under the age of 14 is a common sense starting point and will prevent kids from taking thousands and thousands of additional hits during their lifetime. The unspoken benefit of this strategy, is that only a small percentage of youth football players continue to play in high school. This means that for many of those young football players, they will never suffer the same amount of hitting that is occurring now. Even the ones that continue to high school and college football, they will only be exposed to hitting at a later stage.
This is especially critical for Esteves whose role at the Atlanta Public schools includes bringing back athletics and recess since it has been clearly demonstrated that there is significant brain development from play.
The difficult question is whether any hitting or any football should be allowed. Some critics like Kimberly Archie, whose son was diagnosed with CTE after his death, contend that this is child abuse and that any amount of hitting may be excessive. There is a lot of truth to her contentions and she is certainly not alone in her beliefs. While she has always enjoyed football, it is difficult for her to enjoy the sport the way that she used to since her son’s death.
As the panel noted, the game will NEVER be safe. We don’t forsee any realistic or cost effective solution that would prevent concussions. Brandt noted that it is important to take the decison about whether an athlete should play away from the coaches. He referenced an old quote from Lovie Smith about a Jay Cutler injury quoting Lovie as saying “The doctors told me that he could not play–end of story.”
As far as solutions go, none exist today. So ultimately, as a society, we have to determine whether a sport we love, like football, is worth the long term risk to the brains of our children.
People frequently note that concussions occur in many other sports, and that is true. Some sports like soccer, lacrosse and ice hockey have high concussion rates. But unlike football, none of these spots involve repetitive head impacts at such forceful levels.
We love seeing conversations like these that continue to move the dialogue further along. It certainly is not “enough” and the progress cannot come fast enough.
Steinberg has been pushing this agenda with the league since 1994, and despite having one of the highest profiles in the agent world, his success in furthering the cause has been limited.
While many attack the NFL, Pop Warner, the NCAA and other organizations about failing to protect the kids from concussions, take a look at this article by Roy Kessel who questions why the NFLPA (the group charged with representing, protecting and safeguarding the players) has gotten off scot free